In his career, he has served as Secretary of State for Energy, Secretary of State for Industry, Minister of Technology, Member of Parliament for Bristol South East, Member of Parliament for Chesterfield, as well as serving in the RAF during World War II.
He was instrumental in the creation of the Peerage Act 1963. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was the prominent figure on the left of the Labour Party.
In the second government of Harold Wilson he was Secretary of State for Industry. In the government of James Callaghan, he was Secretary of State for Energy.
After John Parker, he is Labour's longest serving member of parliament. He is known as one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office. He also has become ever more interested in the grass-roots politics of demonstrations and meetings, and ever less in parliamentary activities.
The term "Bennite" has come to be used in Britain for someone of a radical but democratic left-wing position.
He is also a prolific author. Seven volumes of his diaries have been published, as well as Arguments for Socialism (1979), Arguments for Democracy (1981), Common Sense (1993), Free Radical: New Century Essays (2004).
In 2003, before the war in Iraq, he interviewed Saddam Hussein. You can find the transcript of that interview here.
He presented a documentary called "Big Ideas That Changed The World" (which you can find under the Video LJ-cut below in 5 parts). It is a left-wing view of democracy as the means to pass power from the "wallet to the ballot". He argued that traditional social democratic values were under threat in an increasingly globalised world in which powerful institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Commission remain unelected and unaccountable to those whose lives they affect daily. There are three other amazing clips of him in action - my favorite being where he takes John Bolton (whom I loathe) to the woodshed.
Since I love quotes, I will post some of my favorite by Mr. Benn:
- "I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: 'We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.' That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it's a war crime that's been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons."
- "If we are serious about wanting peace we have got to eliminate the causes of war, and to do that we shall have to study our history a bit more carefully."
- "It would be a total corruption of the whole meaning and spirit of the UN Charter, which was carefully written to make it possible the peaceful settlement of international disputes, to try to present it as offering a blank cheque for war whenever the United States wants one."
- "Simply having nuclear weopens destroys democracy. When a country has them, ministers - of all parties - lie. No minister has ever told the truth about any central question of nuclear policy."
- "The word terrorists is a term of abuse used to describe those with whom you disagree. According to Mrs Thatcher the ANC are terrorists."
- "In 1993 I spoke in Hyde park to a couple of million people...afterwards someone from the BBC said 'you're a voice in the wilderness' and I said 'well there are two million people in my wilderness, how many are there in yours?'"
- If one meets a powerful person--Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates--ask them five questions:
- What power have you got?
- Where did you get it from?
- In whose interests do you exercise it?
- To whom are you accountable?
- How can we get rid of you?
- What power have you got?
- "All the emphasis on crime and drugs and pornography used to justify the supression of the Internet is really aimed at supressing knowledge of the radical political alternatives that are now available."
- "All war represents a failure of diplomacy."
- "If democracy is ever to be threatened, it will not be by revolutionary groups burning government offices and occupying the broadcasting and newspaper offices of the world. It will come from disenchantment, cynicism and despair caused by the realization that the New World Order means we are all to be managed and not represented."
- "Democracy is always a struggle for justice against the powerful."
- "... I have always thought it positive to say that the important thing about democracy is that we can remove without bloodshed the people who govern us"
- "I do not share the general view that market forces are the basis for political liberty. Every time I see a homeless person living in a cardboard box in London, I see that person as a victim of market forces. Everytime I see a pensioner who cannot manage, I know that he is a victim of market forces."
- "Democracy is not just voting every 5 years and watching Big Brother in between and wondering why nothing happens. Democracy is what we do and say where we live and work."
- "A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world."
- "It's the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you."
- "The Marxist analysis has got nothing to do with what happened in Stalin's Russia: it's like blaming Jesus Christ for the Inquisition in Spain."
- “It is an absolute disgrace. You can't bug anyone's telephone without a warrant, which is express written consent personally signed by the Home Secretary. Why should you have less protection over the Internet?”
- "Love thy neighbour as thyself - that's an aspect of Christianity that hasn't reached the White House."
- "You can't create democracy by invasion."
- “If you file your waste-paper basket for fifty years, you have a public library.”
All 8 clips will play in succession once the first one is started.